The phone cried out, desperately ringing in the empty kitchen. Mrs. Anthony rushed into the room and picked the phone up from its resting place on the immaculate kitchen counter. "Hello," her cheery voice called into the phone.
"We have your daughter," a gravelly man announced into the phone. "We expect you to give us one hundred thousand dollars in ransom money or your daughter goes bye-bye."
Mrs. Anthony stared at the counter unbelieving. In her mind, she had dismissed it as a teenager's idle prank and was readying herself to hang up so she could continue her housework. She decided it would be fun to play along, at least just for a while.
"How'd you find my daughter?" she said into the phone, perfectly faking anxiety. "Where'd you get our number?"
The man on the other end answered her questions instantly. It was almost as if he didn't have to take the time to make it up. This was one prepared prank caller. "We took her from outside of her high school, Polkton High School. She had her cell phone; we called the entry labeled 'home.'"
Polkton High? That was her daughter Sarah's high school. What if they were telling the truth?
The man on the other end of the phone continued. "What a pretty girl she is. Blonde. Tall. Young. Wouldn't it be a shame to end such a life?"
Mrs. Anthony was now terrified. Everything the man had said pointed to the same thing. He really had kidnapped her daughter. "Where do I bring the money?"
"Where? The old garage down on 4th street. Tomorrow at exactly two o' clock. Make sure to come alone and bring the money. Or else."
"Or else what?"
The man slammed down the phone, severing the connection and neglecting her final question.
Mrs. Anthony was terrified, chilled to the bone. What if they did have Sarah? They could kill her easily. She would have to talk to her husband when he got home. Yes. He would know just what to do. He would know how to solve their problem and end their anguish.
They couldn't lose Sarah. She was the perfect daughter. Pretty, smart, motivated; her list of positive traits could fill pages with description. Her blonde, flowing hair paused at her neck and then traveled down the beginning of her back. She was not exceedingly thin but was certainly well-built. The smiles that constantly surfaced on her face had always warmed her family's lives. They couldn't lose Sarah now.
Mrs. Anthony suddenly felt a severe blast of fear and grasped the counter top to steady herself. She lowered herself into the mahogany kitchen chair and lay her head down on the table. The ceiling lights hung above her, and behind her, the white refrigerator loomed. Apple crisp was sizzling in the oven to her right, while on her left a door opened to the rest of the house.
She couldn't muster up the strength or the willpower to walk through that door and do housework. Her tidy brown hair sagged on her skull as she laid there meditating miserably and pouting painfully. Distraught, she attempted to remain her levelheaded self. Even the clean kitchen scent and the odor of the cooking pastry didn't soothe her nerves.
"Honey, I'm home." Mr. Anthony announced the classic cliché as he stepped in the door, whereupon Mrs. Anthony immediately burst into tears again.
She tried to say something, but the words merely came out as nonsensical syllables. "Laloogehoogah."
"Honey, calm down," coaxed Mr. Anthony. "Tell me what's wrong."
"Sarah," she shouted out, before continuing to cry relentlessly. "My darling-" Sarah walked in the door, slamming it behind her. Mrs. Anthony's red, tear-stained face lit up as she leapt out of her seat.
"Sarah," she happily exclaimed, "you're alright." She joyously squeezed her daughter in a grip that would startle a bear. Slowly, Mrs. Anthony became her normal levelheaded self again and released her daughter from her arms.
"Mom," Sarah said, "of course I'm okay." Then, hair streaming behind her, Sarah sprinted up to her room. Her mother was a little strange sometimes and it was none of her business.
"What was that all about?" Mr. Anthony was concerned about his wife's neurotic behavior.
"Nothing," she assured him. "Nothing at all."
That whole night and the next morning Mrs. Anthony marveled at how gullible she'd been. Kidnapping? Yeah, right. Some hoax it was. Just some teenager or perverted adult picking up a cell phone and playing with the numbers in the database. Everything would be fine, they'd just have to get her a new phone.
It was about three in the afternoon the next day, however, when Mrs. Anthony began to doubt herself. The phone once again rang mercilessly, beckoning her to pick it up. Again, she rushed into the room and cheerfully lifted the phone to her face; she wasn't thinking about the earlier day's incident.
"Lady," a rough, violent, male voice said on the phone, "we didn't get your money. And you know what we warned you." The voice that was talking through the phone was same the "kidnapper" who had called the day before.
"Now we'll have to kill your daughter ma'am." Mrs. Anthony almost dropped the phone. No. It couldn't be. Her daughter had come home safe and sound. She'd gone to school, of course. Everything was fine.
"And just for your enjoyment," the man continued devilishly, "we'll remove her gag so you can experience her pain with her."
Mrs. Anthony heard a sharp rip and then a girl's loud, terrified screams. The shrieking pierced Mrs. Anthony's ears and beat at her eardrums, pushing her down into her chair. She couldn't discern whether it was her daughter who was screaming, not from the chaotic screeches that she heard.
"No we'll get to the fun part," the man whispered into the phone. "How about we start with a finger, eh? Removing it will be fun. I like sharp knives you know."
With a slash, the tone of the screams suddenly shifted gear. They were no longer screams of horror; now they were shrieks of pain. Mrs. Anthony gulped and tried to convince herself it was fake. Maybe the prankster had found a good actor. She'd seen her daughter. Everything was okay.
But it didn't sound like it through the telephone. The sound of grief and pain radiating from the receiver would cause many to faint instantly. Mrs. Anthony tried her best to hold onto herself. Control yourself, she told herself resolutely. It's not real. Sarah is safe. Sarah is safe.
"Now shall we move onto something more complex?" The man still sounded jovial, like a lion going in for the kill. "How about the neck?"
Mrs. Anthony slammed the phone down. The neck? That would kill the poor girl. Even if it wasn't Sarah (and it wasn't) and even it wasn't real (it couldn't be) she still couldn't bear to listen. She was already hyperventilating and crying heavily; the prank had gone to her heart. For that's all it was, a prank. Yes, a prank.
She laid her head down on the table and waited, tears streaming. Mr. Anthony would be late coming home from work, so Sarah would arrive first. She would come, after all. But soon, it was past the time at which Sarah usually came through the door and Mrs. Anthony could control herself no longer. She let loose long continuous volleys of sobs and loud cries of pain.
"Sarah, oh Sarah. Why you and not me?" She sniffed into her sleeve and could smell the salty scent of tears.
"Why me what, mom?" Sarah said, entering the door.
"Is that really you?" she was visibly upset and Sarah was a little disconcerted.
She walked over to her mother. "Yes this is me. Are you all right?"
"Yes," Mrs. Anthony assured Sarah, calming down, "now I am." It had been a hoax. Just an act. Someone had been trying to scare her and they'd done a good job. It was obvious now.
Mrs. Anthony sighed in relief and grasped her daughter tightly.
"Glad to see you too mom." Sarah did, obviously, notice that her mom was acting odder than usual and was quite curious about the reason. "What was it that upset you anyway?"
Mrs. Anthony looked around nervously for a second. "Your cell phone, do you have it?"
"No," Sarah said, speaking quickly and beginning a long narrative that Mrs. Anthony knew she couldn't interrupt. Once Sarah started talking, you couldn't interrupt her until she was done. "You see I lent it to Mae. She was going out after school yesterday and hers was broken. She needed to be able to call home from the park and I figured it wouldn't hurt. She's always been a faithful friend.
"Today, I was waiting for Mae to approach her in the halls and give it back to me, but I didn't see her all day. So, I stopped by her house this afternoon, that's why I was late, and I talked to her parents. They haven't heard from her since yesterday right before she left school. She called to give them her number and-"
Sarah stopped because her mother had become wide-eyed and fearful. "Mom, what is it?"
"Um, Sarah dear," Mrs. Anthony asked trying to keep herself composed. "Mae wouldn't happen to be that nice friend of yours. Blonde, tall, pretty?"
Mrs. Anthony sat back down again, breathing heavily. It made sense now. The kidnappers had gotten Mae and had figured that the cellphone was hers. Sarah's cell. And of course there was Sarah's home phone number written as "home". So, the kidnappers might have… "Oh my god. Sarah, dear, call 911. We have a murder on our hands."